We at HappeningsCLT think that one of the best ways to understand and appreciate art better is to get to know the artist who created it. Hence our ever popular Carolina Art Crush series. Recently though, we had an opportunity to learn more about Niki de Sainte Phalle and her Beautiful Monsters in this New Yorker Article.
The article centers around the fabrication of the Tarot Garden in Tuscany; the magical wonderland that is the culmination of her life’s work where she even lived in the breasts of one of her own sculptures. But the article does so much more than just reveal the behind the scenes of one project, it reveals the events of Niki’s life that built up to her final and most monumental project.
While her sculptures are bright, whimsical and can be enjoyed by adults and children alike, in actuality her drive to create art stems from a dark and challenging past. Born to an aristocratic French/American family, banished to boarding schools, institutionalized, abused, and belittled by the men in her life, Niki fought for respect and independence in everything that she did. She credited art with healing her and used it as an expression of strength. Her Shooting paintings were also performances, before performance art really existed, were both groundbreaking and scandalous. It was an act of using violence to counteract the violence of the times and the frustration that she felt as a woman in a world dominated by men.
While her work is not typically labeled as feminist in genre, when you learn more about Niki and the development of her work, you realize that everything she created was to explore and empower being a woman. From exploding the concept of what a woman could do as an artist with the shootings, to the development of the liberated and voluptuous Nanas, to the building of the monumental mosaic sculptures – she was driven to prove that a woman could do anything and more than a man could do.
And she did, gaining acceptance into the art group the Nouveau Realistes – which included Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, Gérard Deschamps and later Christo. Niki was the only female member. The work of this group was contemporary of the American Pop Art Movement, and in some ways, Niki became as popular as Andy Warhol at that time. She began to move into a new phase of her work with the Nanas, where she focused on providing joy in her art while still exploring a woman’s identity. The Nana’s represented the archetype of the descendant of woman as the earth goddess. They are voluminous creatures, free, full of expression, and they are monumental. Next to a Nana, men seem small.
There is so much more to the life of Niki that sheds light onto her work, so we encourage you to take the time this weekend to learn more about Niki. Then, next time to pass by The Firebird, tell her thank you for pouring her entire heart and soul into the creation of art for you to enjoy.